The Kennedy Center

Iréne Theorin


Swedish soprano Iréne Theorin is a star on the rise – a singer of incredible quality and artistry, and one who embraces a broad repertoire with dedication and enthusiasm. She made her U.S. debut at Washington National Opera last season in Siegfried as Brünnhilde, and returns this season both as Ariadne in Ariadne auf Naxos and Brünnhilde in concert performances of Götterdämmerung. We had a chance to talk to Iréne about her career, and her thoughts on the upcoming performances.

How did you come to opera?

I had my children very young, and only started studying when I already had three sons. I started taking private lessons and my teacher suggested that maybe I should try and go to a university of music. And I did. So I saw my first opera when I was...quite old. [laughs]

But I'm very happy about that now, because you always have a conflict, when you're a parent. Now my children are grown up, and I can come to Washington and know they'll survive without me!

Do you have one performance that you think of as your big break?

I'd have to say that the first big break was my debut, doing Donna Anna [at the Royal School of Opera] in Copenhagen. But for my career, it was when I did Brünnhilde and moved over to the more dramatic roles. I do a lot of dramatic things now, and that's what's taken me around the world.

On the other hand, my career has developed from the first day I started to sing. Everything has gone so fast, that I can't put my finger on one specific thing that has given me success; it's been such a success the whole time.

Is there any one operatic role you feel a personal connection with?

I have to have a personal connection with all the roles I do, even the bad ones. Even Turandot! She's a bad woman, killing people, but if you follow her to the end, you can see that she's quite human.

And I have to find that human connection, to make it interesting - interesting for me and interesting for the audience. Because I think if it's not real for me, in my body, it's definitely less real for the people watching. I am singing who I am, and try to be honest with the character.

Is this your first time singing Ariadne?

I did it when I was in school, but it's the first time I'm going to do it for a big audience, and it's very exciting.

It's going to be very different going from doing a Brünnhilde to an Ariadne. I'm really looking forward to doing Ariadne and then Götterdämmerung in the same week!

How do you prepare to sing different roles? Does it change from opera to opera?

I always sing with my voice, and my technique. I still do a lot of Verdi and Puccini, as well as Wagner, so I use the whole range and all the colors in my voice quite often. I haven't gotten to the point where I'm only doing one type of repertoire, which I’m really happy about that.

What I usually do to prepare is go into the text, and listen to what it has to say. I listen to what the other characters, my colleagues, are saying to me and their reactions to me. That's all the same from opera to opera.

With Strauss... you use so much of the small changes of the harmony all the time in Strauss. It goes like a fish in the water, it just floats away, and it's very sophisticated and intellectual.

I'm also working on Elektra, for a debut next summer [at the Salzburg Summer festival]. And it’s so different than Ariadne. Elektra is very direct, very straight ahead. Ariadne is like a big painting. A painting of pain, and sorrow, and wish that is so deep she wants to die.

Last time you were with us, you ended up singing Brünnhilde both at WNO in Siegfried and at the Met, in Die Walküre and Siegfried, all at the same time.

There were some days where I had a rehearsal in the morning in New York, and then in the evening in Washington, and then back up to New York for the morning again. It was quite...interesting [laughs].

To do the same part in such different productions, it's like brain gymnastics. You just have to be very disciplined, and not stress out. Just keep calm, and do your work.

Any thoughts about returning to the WNO?

It might sound a bit too much, but I really had tears in my eyes when I left after Siegfried, because I had such a nice stay. I’m really just thrilled to be back. And I hope it won't be the last time!

An Interview by Claire Blaustein
Iréne Theorin